I look at Cosmopolitan on the magazine racks at the grocery store while waiting in the checkout line with some frequency, ever ready to roll my eyes. It wasn’t always this way — as a teen, Cosmopolitan was one of the only resources I had on sex, aside from medical textbooks and historic manuscripts (which I’d devoured by the age of 13).
It was one of the few magazines that had the audacity to talk about sex in a way that made me feel excited about the sexual journey I was navigating. Sure, they didn’t talk about all aspects of sex that I was curious about and their sexual positions occasionally made me wonder how many injuries annually were inspired by such things, but all in all, Cosmopolitan taught me that talking about sex was important.
When Helen Gurley Brown, who was editor-in-chief of of the magazine for 32 years, passed away on Monday, I was immediately reminded how someone we have never met can so deeply impact our lives. I had just gotten divorced when I happened across her 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl again: “I think marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life,” I read out loud from the book, laughing. “During your best years, you don’t need a husband.” What you do need, she stressed over and over, is a job you love. A job at which you work “like a son of a bitch.”
Whatever I may think about Cosmopolitan now — and even some of the ideas in this book — it’s impossible to deny that Helen Gurley Brown took a machete to the notion that women needed marriage to be fulfilled. I respect that immensely. Get a job, get your own place (without roommates!), screw the idea that you need anyone, screw the idea that you can’t have everyone, make time for your self, take care of your body, have the epic sex you deserve. Yes. We had our differences, but in that, she and I were on the same page.
Gurley Brown changed the conversation and I’m grateful for that.